Respiratory System Bronchodilators Decongestants Medicaments to treat coughs Productive coughs Dry coughs

Respiratory System

Breathing problems may occur in several different manners, including any injury to the alveoli (emphysema), partial congestion of an air passage by any material and/ or damage to the lung tissue owing to any disease, such as tuberculosis. However, the most widespread problems crop up due to allergic reactions (generally in the nasal passages), any infection, or asthma, wherein the bronchi are affected by intermittent contractions.

Majority of the infections caused by bacteria or virus usually result in inflammation of different airway parts. This is accompanied with subsequent fever, coughing, phlegm, irritation and a viscous mixture of pus and mucus. In fact, these type of inflammations are named according to the location where they occur, for instance tonsillitis (tonsils), rhinitis (nose), bronchitis (bronchial tubes), laryngitis (larynx), pneumonia (lungs) and pharyngitis (throat).

Even pollutants in the atmosphere as well as coming in contact with tobacco smoke for a prolonged period may harm the respiratory tract.


After the air goes into the lungs, it travels through the thin tubes known as bronchioles. In specific situations, the bronchioles turn out to be narrower - possibly due to constriction of the muscles along the walls of the bronchioles, congestion of mucus or inflammation. When the bronchioles are constricted, it hinders the air flow, both into and from the lungs. This often results in breathlessness or breathing difficulties.

As the name suggests, physicians generally prescribe bronchodilators to widen or dilate the bronchioles, thereby enhance breathing. Bronchodilators can be classified into three broad groups - anticholinergics, sympathomimetic medications, and xanthine medications, which have a relation with caffeine.

Bronchodilator medications work by unwinding the muscles around the bronchioles. Anticholinergic and sympathomimetic medications relax the muscles by means of getting in the way of the nerve signals transmitted to the muscles via the autonomic nervous system. It is believed that xanthine medications unwind the muscles of the bronchioles by influencing the muscle fibers directly. However, scientists are yet to ascertain the exact actions of these medications. Another type of medications called corticosteroids reduces inflammation in the mucus cells lining the lungs.

When bronchodilators are taken for instant respite from breathlessness, they generally help to recover normal breathing in just a few minutes. Anti-inflammatory medications are taken to put off breathless attacks and they usually work to begin improving an individual's capacity for undertaking exercises in some days of their use. It has been found that nearly all people experience a decrease in the rate of occurrence of bouts of panting or gasping when they use these medications.

Use of bronchodilators may cause minor adverse effects, particularly if one uses them very often or in excessive dosages. Occasionally, use of sympathomimetic medications may lead to trembling and palpitations. Most common adverse effects of using anticholinergic medications comprise blurred vision and dryness in the mouth. On the other hand, xanthine medications may result in side effects like headaches and palpitations. Inhaling steroids may lead to oral thrush and tender, dry throat.

There are a number of bronchodilators that are generally not administered orally, but inhaled. Generally, these bronchodilators do not lead to any grave adverse effects. Nevertheless, they may possibly have a negative influence on the heart rate. This is the reason why physicians exercise great caution while prescribing xanthine and sympathomimetic medications, especially for people enduring problems related to the heart, hypertension (high blood pressure) or an hyperactive thyroid gland. Similarly, people suffering from urine retention or enduring glaucoma should always avoid anticholinergic medications, because these drugs may worsen their condition.


In most cases, blocked nose or nasal passages are attributed to the swelling of the subtle mucous membranes that form the lining of the nasal passages. In addition, too much mucus production due to inflammation is also responsible for blocked nose. Nasal congestion may often be due to any infection, generally a common cold, or this condition may also occur owing to allergic agents, for instance, due to pollens - a health condition called hay fever or allergic rhinitis. In addition, the sinuses (the air space inside the skull) may also be blocked, leading to a condition known as sinusitis.

Medications known as decongestants work to lessen the inflammation of the mucus membranes and also hold back mucus production, thereby, they help to open up the congested sinuses and nasal passages.

When there is an irritation of the mucous membrane that forms the lining of the nasal passage due to any infection or an allergy, the blood vessels carrying blood to the nose get distended. This, in turn, results in fluid build-up in the area around the tissues inside the nose and promotes excessive mucous production, which aggravates the condition.

Majority of the decongestant medications are classified under the sympathomimetic group of drugs that invigorate the sympathetic segment of our autonomic nervous system. Stimulation of this part of the brain results in the contraction of the blood vessels, which, in turn, lessens the swelling of the mucous membrane lining the nasal passages as well as sinuses.

When these medications are applied externally in the form of sprays or drops, they begin to alleviate the blockage in just some minutes. The action of the decongestant drugs taken orally starts a little late, but their impact continues for a longer period compared to those used topically.

The adverse affects of using topical decongestants in moderate doses are few, as these medications are not taken up by our body in excessive quantities. However, decongestants that are taken orally pose a greater risk of harmful side effects. As these medications directly act on the sympathetic nervous system, they may even give rise to symptoms like trembling and faster heart rate. These are the main reasons why orally used decongestants ought to be used cautiously, especially by people who are enduring problems related to the heart, suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension) and have a hyperactive thyroid gland.

When decongestants are used for a prolonged period or in excessive amounts, they do provide initial relief, but in the long run cause more harm, resulting in a condition known as "rebound congestion." It is possible to avert this condition from occurring by taking the least effective dosage and also by using decongestant drugs only when it is extremely essential. In addition, taking them for a brief duration will also help to prevent this condition.

Medicaments to treat coughs

When the lungs or the air passages are irritated it causes coughing, a very normal response to these conditions. Coughing is actually meant to force out detrimental substances from our respiratory system. There are a number of reasons why we cough and some of the most frequent reasons include respiratory tract infection (for instance pneumonia or bronchitis), coming in contact with substances that cause irritation to the lungs and respiratory tract, such as chemical fumes and smoke; and airways becoming inflamed due to asthma. There are basically two types of coughs, subject to their causes - dry coughs or productive coughs that produce phlegm.

In majority of instances, coughing is basically a beneficial response that helps the body to eliminate excessive phlegm or substances that cause irritation in the respiratory tract. Therefore, when you use medications to suppress coughing, it may actually delay recuperation. Nevertheless, recurring attacks of coughing may be anguishing, at times augmenting the irritation inside the air passages. When one suffers from such conditions, he may be prescribed some medications to overcome this problem.

Even cough remedies can be broadly classified into two groups depending on whether one is suffering from dry coughs or productive coughs.

Productive coughs

Expectorants as well as mucolytics are medication groups that are usually prescribed for treating productive coughs when common home remedies like steam inhalation fail to loosen the cough and get rid off the phlegm in the form of cough more easily. Use of mucolytics brings about a change in the phlegm consistency and makes it less gooey and can be coughed up more easily. Often, mucolytics are administered through inhalation. On the other hand, expectorants are medications that are often added to non-prescription remedies for cold and cough. It is said that both these medications promote phlegm production. However, the general benefits of using these medications remain uncertain.

Dry coughs

Usually people having dry cough do not have anything as far as discharge of phlegm is concerned. Hence, medications used to treat dry cough are those that work to hold back the coughing mechanism by means of pacifying the brain segment that controls the coughing response. Antihistamine medications are generally prescribed for treating mild coughs, especially in children. On the other hand, gentle narcotic medications like codeine are recommended for people who suffer from persistent coughs. Generally, all types of cough suppressants have a tranquilizing impact on the brain as well as the nervous system. Therefore, use of cough suppressants usually results in sleepiness as well as other different spin-offs.

What is concerning is the fact that many stores sell several types of non-prescription drugs for treating coughs, which are quite bewildering. Majority of these drugs have a syrupy base and active elements as well as flavouring agents are added to it - at times, the effects of these medications are simply contradictory. You will be surprised to know that some over-the-counter cough medications contain an expectorant (used for curing a productive cough) as well as a cough suppressant (used for treating a dry cough) at the same time, resulting in unwanted effects.

Therefore, it is vital that you select the correct kind of medication for treating cough and stay away from any risk of making deteriorating your condition further. For instance, if you have a productive cough and use a cough suppressant, it will not help you in throwing out excessive phlegm and this may eventually delay recuperation or even worsen your condition. In fact, it is advisable that you opt for a medication that contains a single active element, which is just right for treating the kind of cough you are suffering from. People enduring diabetes, should ensure that they select a medication that is sugar-free.

It is suggested that you consult your physician or pharmacist in case you are not sure about which cough medication is right for your condition. You should also check with your physician if you are suffering from persistent coughing that continues for more than two days or in case the cough occurs together with other symptoms like fever or the phlegm contains blood. This is essential because using non-prescription cough remedies may also hold-up the diagnosis of an underlying problem of more serious nature.

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